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Nairy Baghramian: Forms With Personality

Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver September 13 to November 11, 2012

For Nairy Baghramian’s first North American solo exhibition, the Contemporary Art Gallery chose Class Reunion (2008), a collection of 18 individual sculptures made of cast rubber, metal and epoxy resin that are witty and intelligent. Reminiscent of early to mid-century modernism, with a nostalgic tip of the hat to sculptors like Isamu Noguchi and Jean Arp, it is equally reminiscent of that outdated vision of the future that tends toward black-and-white biomorphic abstraction in design (Woody Allen’s 1973 Sleeper, for example).

By the ensemble’s title (and the titles of the individual sculptures), we are encouraged to see the gathering as a quirky cast of characters. Baghramian succeeds in engendering her forms with personality through precise and elegant formal decisions including the elimination of almost any regularity of outline. The bulbous upper portions of the sculptures are smooth and glossy, while slender lower portions swell and taper, terminating in feet or flat plates, some of which support or are surrounded by slabs of translucent blackish, purplish rubber that look like jello. Other sculptures are made from irregularly cut and folded plate metal.

It is interesting how naturally and definitively we, as sentient beings, associate form with personality. A straight line is serious; a diagonal, less so; and a curving loop-the-loop, humorous. Considering balance, symmetry is serious; asymmetry is not (part of the joy of Laurel and Hardy).

The distribution of the works allows us to form a narrative: for instance, a husband, Slacker 1, lies drunk on the floor. Standing nearby, his wife, Flamingo, blushes pink. Knucklehead Hither, the AWOL appendage from Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose (1836), scurries past. And leaning in the corner, made distinct from all the others by, among other things, its symmetry and enclosed volume, is Tomcat, the petulant loner.

Given her attention to detail in form, Baghramian has been surprisingly casual in fabrication and upkeep. Cast forms are pitted and chipped; there are cracks and sags in painted surfaces, and what look like gaps at joints where sections meet. An explanation may be in the gallery notes, which say that, like much of Baghramian’s other work, Class Reunion comments “on current issues of materiality, manufacture and display while examining aspects of social and political relationships.” Maybe, sometimes, rather than engaging in conversation, it’s a lot more fun to sit on the couch and make up stories about the guests.

 

This review was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents


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